Illinois Justice Project

Sensible Sentencing Laws - Q3 - Illinois Gubernatorial Candidates Criminal Justice Questionnaire

Illinois Gubernatorial Candidates Criminal Justice Questionnaire



III. Sensible Sentencing Laws

In his first month in office in 2015, Governor Bruce Rauner issued an executive order creating the bi-partisan Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform, which is composed of leaders from law enforcement, public service, academia, and the General Assembly. The executive order directed the Commission “to develop comprehensive, evidence-based strategies to more effectively improve public safety outcomes and reduce Illinois’ prison population by 25% by 2025.” The Commission met for two years and delivered over 20 actionable recommendations. While some progress has been made in implementing them, many have not been turned into law or enacted administratively.

Do you support the goal of the Commission? Do you support the Commission’s recommendations? Are there any recommendations that you would prioritize? Do you have other recommendations to lower the state’s prison population?


J.B. Pritzker

I support the goal of the Commission and plan to build upon the Commission’s recommendations.

It is time to envision a criminal justice system that delivers justice to victims, rehabilitates individuals, and builds safer communities. That’s not where we are right now. Decades of systemic racism, underfunded public schools, and excessive sentences have led to mass incarceration across Illinois. Our prisons are operating at 134 percent capacity and there are nearly 43,000 individuals behind bars – but this is about more than statistics and numbers. This is about systemic disinvestment in communities and families, African American men being incarcerated at staggering rates, and a broken system in desperate need of reform.

We must start with Illinois’ sentencing laws. We need sentencing guidelines that not only match the offense, but also work to deter crime and build safer communities. We also need to reform the bail system and partner with communities across the state to bolster successful diversion programs and robust data collection.

As governor, I will work to reverse the foundational causes of mass incarceration. Under Bruce Rauner, we’ve seen steady disinvestment in our communities, human services decimated, and economic opportunity for our middle class and those striving to get into the middle class disappear. Yet, Illinois will spend over $1.4 billion in FY17 incarcerating its citizens. We need to modernize our approach to sentencing to focus on public safety and smart sentencing. The savings obtained from modernizing the sentencing system should be invested directly back to our communities to fund programs that reduce incarceration in the first place and expand opportunity for all Illinois communities.

  • Reform sentencing laws to better match the offense:
    • Legalize marijuana, lower the penalties for certain drug offenses, and adjust the punishments for other non-violent offenses.
    • Reform excessive sentencing, reduce the use of mandatory-minimums, and allow judges greater discretion to use probation for certain offenses.
  • Protect people from being unfairly detained and imprisoned:
    • Abolish the monetary bail system and replace it with a validated risk assessment tool that is fair to all of our communities.
    • Stop the unjust application of fees and fines that burden those who can’t afford to pay and can lead to further incarceration.
  • Partner with communities to divert people from the justice system:
    • Strengthen local diversion programs and promote collaboration to share best practices and replicate what’s working.
    • Partner with local officials to collect and analyze data, provide support to evaluate local initiatives, and share best practices across the state.

Daniel Biss

Yes, I support the goal and recommendations of the Commission and would work as governor to make the necessary statutory and administrative changes. I believe we must reassess the value of sentences and classifications for a variety of felony offenses including drug charges, retail theft, and some enhancement locations. Furthermore, we should dedicate greater resources to treatment and educational opportunities within the DOC and in transitional facilities. I also support legalizing, regulating, and taxing recreational marijuana. We should examine how to reduce our aging and terminally ill prison populations without endangering public safety. Lastly, I would reduce prison populations by proactively exercising clemency powers to address unfair sentencing and reduce prison population.


Chris Kennedy

Yes, I support all of the Commission’s recommendations to improve our criminal justice system. Among the recommendation that are of prominent importance are pursuing alternatives to imprisonment, as well as commuting low-level sentences and reducing the cost and repercussions of petty theft.

We should not rely on the costly, and often counter-productive stays in prison when we can pursue common sense alternatives like electronic monitoring for non-violent felons with sentences less than 12 months. Just as I believe in punishing the guilty, so too do I believe in the merits of rehabilitation, and our jails are often the places where low-level criminals become conditioned to pursue a life of crime beyond their sentencing.

I support limiting automatic sentence enhancements and reducing the minimum sentence authorized for Class X, 1, 2, and 3 felonies. I will immediately institute a review process to commute the cases of incarceration due to low-level offenses like marijuana possession and put in place assistance to expunge the records of these ex-offenders.

 I further support increasing the threshold for being charged with felony for property crime (like shoplifting). Currently, the value of property lost or damages that results in this extreme charge is $300. That is extremely low compared to a number of other states, where the threshold for this same outcome is close to around $2,500. That’s a huge discrepancy and results in a disproportionately high volume of people who are in our prison system for a relatively petty act. I believe we should also remove penalty enhancements that raise misdemeanor charges to felonies if the person has had a prior conviction. We should identify the behavior, the circumstances of the offense, and assign appropriate charges. These are common sense reforms that benefit everyone.